A better week for cantata 198 than for 86

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 Rosa centifolia ‘Major’, dated as far back as the 16th century in the Netherlands. Courtesy of http://rudolfshistorischer-rosen-park.blogspot.com/ , a website I found when looking for roses that would have existed in Germany in Bach’s time

 

This week I don’t feel a lot of connection with the Bach cantata from 1724 for this Sunday, cantata 86 Wahrlich, wahrlich, ich sage euch. When I came home from the funeral of one friend, I learned that another friend had passed away suddenly the day before. Because these were both very strong, kind, beautiful, and inspiring women, and I can’t believe they are gone, I feel much more inclined to listen to cantata 198, Lass, Fürstin, Lass nun einen Strahl, which Bach wrote for the funeral of a well-loved Queen than to a cantata which promotes that “God always knows best.”

But I’ll still write about cantata 86. The only connection I have with it this week are the roses in the text of  the alto aria. It is my favorite movement of this cantata, because of the splendid violin solo. The interpretation of that violin solo I like best of all the recordings I listened to* is the one by Kati Debretzeni on the Gardiner recording. Listen to this recording on YouTube here, and read more about violinist Kati Debretzeni here. Soloists on the Gardiner recording are Katharine Fuge, soprano; Robin Tyson, counter-tenor; Steve Davisilim, tenor; and Stephan Loges, bass.

For better interpretations of the bass and tenor solos, I recommend listening to the Koopman recording on YouTube, with tenor Christoph Prégardien and bass Klaus Mertens.

For the text and translations of cantata 86, please visit this page, and for the score, please go here.

Why the connection with roses? About one week ago, on Friday May 12, I went to drop off a card for a friend who was dying. I learned she was in her last days on Tuesday, but it took me until Friday morning to find the right words, finish writing the card, and to drop it off. When I walked to her door I noticed a hedge of sweet pink roses in the front yard. I felt peace from seeing the roses, and from the knowledge that she liked roses, but I also felt miserable and angry that she would be taken away from all this, from her family, her life, her home. The next day, we heard she passed away during that night.

This past Friday was the day of her funeral. I didn’t know how it would go, how my kids would handle it (my oldest and her oldest are friends), and tried to find some strength for myself, so I would be able to be there for them. I realized that I associate this woman’s kindness and warmth with the pinkish apricot color of my favorite rose in the Berkeley rose garden, Westerland. So I decided to walk through the rose garden to experience the color and scent of this amazing flower, and it helped. This is what she looked like that day: Westerland

What to listen for in cantata 86:

In the opening movement, notice how Bach accentuates the fact that Jesus is speaking important, timeless words by setting these words in the form of an archaic motet. While the motet has multiple voices, the way it was done in the Renaissance, Bach can still make it clear that the words come from Christ’s mouth only, by giving all the other “voice parts” to instruments instead of to other singers.

In the alto aria, hear how the words “brechen” (to pick [roses]) and “stechen” (to prick) are illustrated by short notes and “broken” chords in the voice part, and broken chords in the violin part.

In the soprano aria, hear how low in the soprano range this is set — it could just as well have been sung by an alto. Bach has not given significant solos to a soprano since Easter of this year, 1724, and actually pretty sporadically since the start of the new year. Many scholars suggest that during that spring of 1724, Bach might have lost his boy soprano soloist (due to him leaving the school or due to his voice changing, we don’t know), and documents suggest that he was frustrated with the low quality of the boy sopranos of the St. Thomas School in general. They believe that this is why he started the chorale cantatas (cantatas of which each movement is based on a different verse of one and the same chorale tune) after Pentecost of that year. Keep following this blog and you’ll learn more about that soon 🙂

Wieneke Gorter, May 21, 2017

*I did all this listening last year, when I actually ended up writing about cantata 87, the one Bach wrote for this same Sunday, but then in 1725. Read that post here.

“Cantate” Sunday – or the fourth Sunday after Easter, 1724

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Interior of the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) in Leipzig.

For “Cantate” Sunday, or the fourth Sunday after Easter in 1724, Bach wrote a short but masterful cantata: BWV 166 Wo gehest du hin? I wrote a long but educational and hopefully also entertaining post about this cantata last year. I explain how Bach illustrates that this is the “singing” Sunday, why there is so much talk of “going away” in this cantata, and why I recommend the recording by Ton Koopman/Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. Read that post here.

Wieneke Gorter, May 12, 2017

Third Sunday after Easter in 1724

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For this Jubilate Sunday (the third Sunday after Easter) in 1724, Bach did not write a new cantata the way he had done the previous two weeks*, but repeated one he had written in Weimar in 1714. That cantata: Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen was not any old cantata, but a composition Bach was most probably very proud of: he would later use the opening chorus as template for the Crucifixus in his Mass in B minor. Read all about this cantata and the recordings I recommend in this post I wrote last year.

Wieneke Gorter, May 7, 2017

*see this post about the first Sunday after Easter in 1724 and this one about the second Sunday after Easter in 1724

Second Sunday after Easter 1724

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Christ the Good Shepherd, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, c. 1660. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

We keep following Bach in 1724. For the second Sunday after Easter of that year, he composed cantata 104 Du Hirte Israel, höre. Of all the recordings I listened to, I prefer the one of Ton Koopman with his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, here on YouTube.

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Paul Agnew

My main reason for choosing this recording is tenor Paul Agnew’s fabulous singing. Type his name in the “search” box on this blog and you’ll find more fan mail from me 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

But also: this recording has the best balance among the voice parts in the choir in the opening chorus, and Klaus Mertens presents a bass aria I can actually listen to without getting irritated. Sorry Philippe Huttenlocher (on the Harnoncourt recording), Stephen Varcoe (Gardiner), and Stephan MacLeod (Bach Collegium Japan).

Find the text of this cantata 104 here, and the score here.

This is a very pretty cantata, entirely based on the “good shepherd” theme for this Sunday, using pastoral motifs in the music, oboes in the orchestra, and displaying an innocent character overall, much more so than the more complicated cantata 85 Bach would write for this same Sunday a year later, which I wrote about last year in this post.

Wieneke Gorter, April 30, 2017.

 

 

First Sunday after Easter 1724

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The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio, 1601-1602, Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam, Germany

In the past two weeks I ran out of time to work on this blog because of being sick, performing concerts with California Bach Society, and being on a trial jury for the first time since becoming a United States citizen in 2011. So this post for the First Sunday after Easter in 1724 is post-dated, and short, but contains lots of information to learn more about this beautiful cantata.

Previously in 1724: Bach “premiered” his Passion according to St. John on Good Friday, April 7, 1724. Then he ran out of time and energy and, without too much care for detail and text illustration, created cantatas out of existing music for Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday of that year.

This means that the first new composition he wrote after the St. John Passion was this cantata 67 Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ (keep thinking of Jesus Christ), based on the Gospel text of Jesus appearing to his disciples. A famous cantata, already known and admired in the early 19th century, especially because of the dramatic fourth movement for choir and bass, which Bach would later transform into the Gloria of his Missa Brevis in A (BWV 234).

For the background of this cantata I will refer you to the experts, in this 15-minute video by the Netherlands Bach Society, published within their AllofBach series. The video is in Dutch, with English subtitles. It talks about Bach including a flute (not a recorder!) for the first time in a cantata, the meaning behind the text, and the use of the slide-trumpet “corno da tirarsi.”

Listen to and watch their performance here, find the text here, and find the score here. The Netherlands Bach Society, conducted by Jos van Veldhoven, with countertenor Alex Potter, tenor Thomas Hobbs, and bass Peter Kooij.

Wieneke Gorter, April 30, 2017.

A quick fix for Easter Tuesday 1724

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As I explained on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, after his Passion according to St. John, Bach had no time or energy left to write anything new for the three Easter days in 1724. On Easter Sunday he repeated two Easter cantatas from earlier years. On Easter Monday he used existing music from a Birthday cantata from Köthen, didn’t seem to care too much about the music not illustrating the text, perhaps didn’t even write a new score, we don’t know, because the only manuscript that survived is from 1735, not from 1724.

On Easter Tuesday, he used Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht (BWV 134a), a “serenata” for New Year’s Day, also from Köthen. For the Leipzig church cantata, cantata 134 Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend Weiß he didn’t change any music at all, gave the instrumentalists the parts from Köthen, and also used the score from Köthen, writing the new sacred text under the original secular text.

Listening to this cantata is like listening to one of Bach’s instrumental works, because the text and the meaning of the text don’t really matter in this case. Listen to Gustav Leonhardt’s recording of this cantata, with René Jacobs, countertenor, and Marius van Altena, tenor.

Thanks to Eduard van Hengel, it is easy to see side-by-side how the new text compares to the original:

Serenata for New Year’s Day in Köthen 1719
Cantata 134 for Easter Tuesday in Leipzig 1724
1. Die Zeit, die Tag und Jahre macht,
Hat Anhalt manche Segensstunden
Und itzo gleich ein neues Heil gebracht.

2. Auf, Sterbliche, lasset ein Jauchzen ertönen.
[…] Auf, Seelen, ihr müsset ein Opfer bereiten,
Bezahlet dem Höchsten mit Danken die Pflicht.

1. Ein Herz, das seinen Jesum lebend weiß,
Empfindet Jesu neue Güte
Und dichtet nur auf seines Heilands Preis.

2. Auf, Gläubige, singet die lieblichen Lieder.
[…] Auf, Seelen, ihr müsset ein Opfer bereiten,
Bezahlet dem Höchsten mit Danken die Pflicht.

Easter Monday 1724

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Excerpt from the title page of Bach’s manuscript from 1735 of cantata 66 Erfreut euch ihr Herzen. The manuscript from 1724 did not survive.

In Bach’s time there were three Easter days, as there were three Christmas days and three Pentecost days. I wrote yesterday that Bach planned to write four new works between April 10 and 23, 1724, but that is only somewhat true, it depends who you ask …

Gardiner believes that what Bach planned to do after Easter 1724,  was to write cantata 6 for Easter Monday, 42 and 67 for the first Sunday after Easter, and 85 for the second Sunday after Easter, instead of writing 6, 42, and 85 in 1725. As he painstakingly explains in his book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,”  Gardiner believes that the work (composing and rehearsing) on the Passion according to St. John must have cost Bach much more time than he thought, and he thus had to adjust his plans.

Following Gardiner’s theory, when Bach realized he had too much on his plate for Easter 1724, including having to write a cantata for Easter Tuesday he might not have planned on, he decided to write parodies (using existing music with some changes, but with different texts) for Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday of that year.

For Easter Monday 1724, he wrote cantata 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen. Most of the music of this cantata is based on the secular cantata 66a Der Himmel dacht auf Anhalts Ruhm und Glück (Heaven thinks of Anhalt’s Fame and Fortune) , composed by Bach in 1718 to celebrate the 24th birthday of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. If you have 40 minutes, listen to a reconstruction of the entire Birthday cantata 66a from 1718 here, with soprano Gudrun Sidonie Otto, alto Wiebke Lehmkuhl, tenor Hans Jörg Mammel, and bass Karsten Krüger. If you only have 10 minutes, scroll to 11:17 for the soprano/alto duet with violin.

Listen to Herreweghe’s recording of cantata 66 Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen here. Soloists: alto Kai Wessel, tenor James Taylor, and bass Peter Kooij. I like Herreweghe’s recording of this cantata the best of all I listened to, because to me the tempo of the opening chorus is perfect for me, Collegium Vocale’s singing is fabulous as always, and I enjoy listening to Peter Kooy in the bass aria.

Find the text of cantata 66 here, and the score here.

Since we only have a manuscript of this cantata from 1735, when Bach repeated this cantata in Leipzig, we don’t know for sure what Bach changed in 1724.  However, based on what we know, and comparing the two recordings I present in this post, Bach used the following movements from the Köthen Birthday cantata 66a in the Leipzig church cantata 66: The impressive and very festive opening chorus of 66 is the closing chorus of 66a, the bass aria of 66 is the alto aria of 66a, and the alto-tenor duet (beautifully sung by Kai Wessel and James Taylor) with violin of 66 is the soprano-alto duet with violin from 66a.

Movement 4 and 5 (the recitative and duet for alto and tenor) are written as a dialogue. Whenever Bach uses that technique in his church cantatas, the two characters are usually Jesus and the Soul (see for example cantata 21). In this case, the Happiness of Anhalt (the alto) from 66a has been transformed to Furcht (Fear) in 66, and  Fama (the godess of fame and reputation, soprano in 66a) has been transformed to Hoffnung (Hope, tenor in 66). With these two characters Bach refers to the Gospel reading of the day: two followers of Jesus walk to the town of Emmaus, only a few days after Jesus’ death and burial. They talk about their hope that he was the Messiah, but are at the same time fearful having heard the news that his body has disappeared from the grave.

In the Birthday cantata 66a, the two characters are in agreement, and therefore sing the same notes. However in cantata 66 Furcht and Hoffnung often disagree, even though they are still singing the same notes. Normally Bach would never have let this happen, but perhaps this is an illustration of how quickly he had to work on this cantata for Easter Monday.

Wieneke Gorter, April 17, 2017

Easter in Leipzig 1724

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The Resurrection by Titan, 1542-1544

This post is really three posts in one, because I’ve realized over the past weeks that for this Easter season, I would like to follow Bach’s cantata performances of 1724 the same way I did that for the Trinity Season of 1723. Thanks for reading to the end!

In the year 1724 in Leipzig, the last Sunday service with music in the churches had been on February 20, when Bach performed the same cantatas (22 and 23) as on that Sunday in 1723, when they were part of his audition in Leipzig.

Bach’s reason for repeating two existing cantatas for that last Sunday before Lent might have been that he was busy writing his Passion according to St. John. However, he might have had extra reasons: cantata 22 features the Vox Christi (voice of Christ). By reminding the Leipzig audiences of the role of Christ in the scripture and his music, they would–in Bach’s mind– hopefully be well prepared for the St. John, in which the figure of Christ is powerfully prominent, much more than in passion compositions of Bach’s predecessors, and even much more than in Bach’s later St. Matthew Passion, even though the singer portraying Christ has more notes to sing in that piece.

The long monologue by Christ occurs almost right away in the opening of cantata 22. Listen to it here on YouTube, performed by the Netherlands Bach Society, with bass Christian Immler. (If you are wondering what that string instrument is on the shoulder of the medieval-looking guy, it is Sigiswald Kuijken playing the violoncello da spalla, and you can read more about it in this post). If you have time, keep watching the YouTube video of this performance, because it has a wonderful interview with Sigiswald Kuijken at the end, in which he explains the meaning of Bach’s writing.

Then, a month later, on Saturday March 25, outside of the regular church year, there was the performance for the Annunciation, as I discussed here. In that cantata, 182, written much earlier in Weimar but not known to the Leipzig audiences until March 25, 1724, there’s also a Vox Christi, singing the words “Siehe, ich komme, im Buch ist von mir geschrieben …” (Lo, I come: in the book it is written of me…). So here we have another “convenient” performance for Bach: no new music to write for the first part of the service*, and a good reminder of the Vox Christi for the listeners.

Despite Bach’s efforts to put his audience in the right frame of mind for the St. John Passion, they were surprised (according to some accounts even shocked) when they heard it on Good Friday, April 7, 1724. I’m pretty sure that Bach himself had not expected this. The passion must have been on his mind already such a long time, and I have no problem picturing this brilliant but nerdy musician who was somewhat incapable of putting himself in the shoes of those with shallower minds. Why I believe the Passion according to St. John must have been on his mind for months already: the tenor aria “Ach mein Sinn” already presents itself in October 1723 in cantata 109 (read more about that here), in November 1723 in cantata 60 (read more about that here), and in January 1724 in cantata 154 (which also has a Vox Christi, read more about it here). Also, the “Herr, Herr” exclamations from the opening chorus first appear as early as July 1723 in cantata 105 (which also has previews of the St. Matthew Passion, read about it here).

Already the opening chorus is of such a dramatic intensity – nobody had every heard anything like it. In the liner notes with his recording, Gardiner says it well: “Even when approaching it from the vantage point of the preceding church cantatas, with their astonishing array of distinctive opening movements, this grand tableau is unprecedented both in scale and Affekt.” What is more, while the instrumental opening suggests lament, the text of the vocal parts turns out to be a praise of Christ as a majestic figure: not a victim, but a victor. Perhaps this vision is what stung the elders and city council members the most, because a year later, in his drastic 1725 revision of the Passion, Bach completely replaced this victorious opening chorus with a lamenting one, later also used as the final movement of the first half of the St. Matthew Passion.

For Easter 1724, on Sunday April 9, Bach performed a cantata from his Weimar years and one from his Mühlhausen years: cantata 31 Der Himmel Lacht, die Erde Jubilieret (discussed here on this blog) and the nowadays well known cantata 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden. Why no new composition for this Easter Sunday? Perhaps he was proud of these cantatas and wanted to show off to the Leipzig congregation and to his colleagues. But most probably he had been extremely busy working on the Passion, and since he was planning no less than four new cantatas for the period between April 10 and 23 of that year, he simply didn’t have time to write anything new.

Watch this live performance by Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam of cantata 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden. It is by no means an impeccable performance, but it is nice to see a live performance of this, and as so often I am moved by Dorothee Mields’ interpretation. I adore how she blends with the cornetto in the alto/soprano duet (starts at 5:27), and her duet with tenor Charles Daniels (a fabulously sensitive and knowledgeable singer, but sometimes overpowered by the orchestra in this performance) is exquisite (starts at 6:10).

Happy Easter!
Wieneke Gorter, April 16, 2017.

* Bach performed two cantatas on that Saturday March 25, 1724, and he did write new music for the second one.

The Annunciation of Mary, March 25

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The Annunciation, aka The Cestello Annunciation, 1489, by Botticelli. Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

In 1714, Palm Sunday fell on the same day as the Annunciation of Mary, March 25. The Annunciation was one of the three Marian feast days Luther kept on the calendar (the other two being the Purification of Mary, February 2, and the Visitation of Mary, July 2).

Thus it happened that in that year, in Weimar, Bach wrote a cantata that is mostly a Palm Sunday cantata, but can also work for the feast of the Annunciation, since that also celebrates the coming of Christ. I squeezed this cantata 182 Himmelskönig, sei willkommen into my post about Bach in Weimar I wrote last year. As I mentioned there, the cantata was repeated a few times in Leipzig, but never on Palm Sunday, as the Leipzig rules dictated that no music was performed during the period of Lent (the 40 days before Easter).

However, the Leipzig council made an exception for the Annunciation, so in 1724 Bach could perform this cantata during Lent, eight days before Palm Sunday, on Saturday March 25. As so often on holidays, there were two cantatas this day, one before the sermon, and one after. The other, newly written, piece for Saturday March 25, 1724, was more literally about the Annunciation: Siehe, eine Jungfrau ist schwanger (Behold, a Virgin is pregnant). The text of this cantata survived, and can be found here, but unfortunately the music is lost.

I still recommend the recording of cantata 182 by Montreal Baroque, but since I wrote my post last year, a terrific live video of the Sonata (instrumental opening) of this cantata has come out on the YouTube channel of Voices of Music, with two fabulous soloists: Hanneke van Proosdij on recorder and Rachel Podger on violin, so I would love to share that here as well. You can find that video here.

Find the text of cantata 182 here, and the score here.

Wieneke Gorter, March 24, 2017.

On my mother’s birthday, March 24

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my mother with my daughter, The Hague, summer of 2009

This year, on March 24, my mother would have turned 71. Sadly, she left us on November 19, 2010, after a tragic illness we only understood to be a terminal one on September 5 of that same year. To say that those months were an emotional roller coaster for all involved is an understatement. Normally very liberal and progressive in her Christianity, my mother turned very pious in her last weeks, and during that time she didn’t really let any persons in anymore, only music.

One of the major reasons I started this blog in January 2016 was to continue my mother’s legacy of playing the cantata for the appropriate Sunday every week, but also to remember the joy of going to concerts with my mother and listening to recordings together with her.

So I would like to think of this post as a short radio program with beautiful Bach music, featuring three soprano arias I strongly associate with my mother, sung by singers she and I adore(d).

A fond childhood memory is my mother, my sister, and I taking the bus from the little town we lived in to a town 15 kilometers (9 miles) away, where my mother was going to sing a solo in a wedding service. I remember what she wore: a light blue dress with tiny white and red flowers on it, a narrow red belt, and red sandals with heels. The solo she was singing was the aria “Sehet in Zufriedenheit” from cantata 202. I remember being in awe that she was standing there on the organ loft and singing it so beautifully. A gorgeous example of this aria, in the exact tempo in which my mother liked to perform it, is this recording of Nancy Argenta with Ensemble Sonnerie under the direction of Monica Huggett:

Sehet in Zufriedenheit
See in contentment
Tausend helle Wohlfahrtstage,
a thousand bright and prosperous days,
Dass bald bei der Folgezeit
so that soon as time passes
Eure Liebe Blumen trage!
your love may bear its flower!

Much later, my parents had a subscription to the series of cantata performances by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with Ton Koopman, and there they got to see and hear many different soprano soloists. I remember them being impressed with Caroline Stam. Hear her sing the aria “Es ist und bleibt der Christen Trost” from cantata 44, one of my mother’s favorite Bach cantata arias of all time,  with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Ton Koopman.

Es ist und bleibt der Christen Trost,
The consolation of Christians is and remains
Dass Gott vor seine Kirche wacht.
God’s watchful care over his church.
Denn wenn sich gleich die Wetter türmen,
For even though at times the clouds gather,
So hat doch nach den Trübsalstürmen
yet after the storms of affliction
Die Freudensonne bald gelacht.
the sun of joy has soon smiled on us.

We felt extremely blessed that Caroline Stam agreed to sing at my mother’s funeral service. We asked her to sing Purcell’s “Evening Hymn,” since that had been in the top 5 on my mother’s iPod in her last weeks. But for the Bach aria, we let Caroline pick what she would like to sing. I am still very grateful for that decision. Always very conscious of texts, Caroline chose the hauntingly beautiful “Die Seele ruht” from cantata 127. For years, I have not been able to listen to this aria, but now I can again, though it still makes me cry a little. Hear Dorothee Mields sing this aria with Collegium Vocale Ghent under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe:

Die Seele ruht in Jesu Händen,
My soul rests in the hands of Jesus,
Wenn Erde diesen Leib bedeckt.

Though earth covers this body
Ach ruft mich bald, ihr Sterbeglocken,
Ah, call me soon, you funereal bells,
Ich bin zum Sterben unerschrocken,

I am not terrified to die
Weil mich mein Jesus wieder weckt.

Since my Jesus will awaken me again.

If you would like to read more, here are five posts from 2016 in which I talk about my mother a lot or a little bit:

The order of things

Glorious soprano arias and unusual instrumentation

The Crown on Bach’s 1723 Trinity season

Many things to be proud of

Our Christmas Morning

Wieneke Gorter, March 24, 2017